Sonny Bill genius takes Chiefs top
A moment of typical inspired brilliance from Sonny Bill Williams broke the deadlock and enabled the Chiefs to score a 39-33 win over the Toyota Cheetahs in Bloemfontein that takes them to the top of the Vodacom Super Rugby log.
The Stormers might have clung to hopes of remaining top beyond this weekend when the Cheetahs survived the first half storm from the Chiefs and then fought back impressively when the inspirational Ashley Johnson and the gifted Johan Goosen were injected from the bench in the second half.
The scores were level at 25-all with nine minutes to go, but that was when Sonny Bill produced his moment of magic as he created space for himself with a good pass to a fellow Chiefs player before loping around to take the off-load and going over for a well taken try, his first for the franchise he moved to from Crusaders during the off-season. Minutes later the Chiefs were on the board again when Richard Kahui was over in the corner, and what had been a close game was suddenly an emphatic win for the visitors.
The Cheetahs though are a different team this season to what they were in past seasons, and their determination to take at least something from the game brought results in the last five minutes. First Goosen went over in the corner, and then when he failed to convert from the touchline with less than a minute remaining he made up for it with a long distance penalty from inside his own half to secure a bonus point for losing by less than seven.
The game belonged to the Chiefs, however, and given the way they dominated the collisions and out-muscled the Cheetahs in almost every area in the first half, it was quite confounding that the Kiwis only led 10-9 at halftime.
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With their big runners creating problems for the Cheetahs almost every time they touched the ball, and the creative genius of Aaron Cruden and Williams forcing the hosts into a situation where they missed far too many tackles for comfort, it seemed only a matter of time before the Chiefs would overrun them.
It didn’t happen, and instead it was the Cheetahs who suddenly found themselves in the lead when Johnson, who announced this week that he will be continuing his career with London club, Wasps, after this Super Rugby season is over, intercepted a Chiefs pass to run 40 metres to score.
That was in the 51st minute, and when Goosen nailed the conversion the Cheetahs were in front 19-17 after being 17-9 behind just four minutes earlier, which was when Sias Ebersohn kicked his last penalty before leaving the field to be replaced by Goosen.
Both Goosen and Johnson contributed hugely to the Cheetahs’ plucky play in the last quarter, but you always got the sense that the Chiefs were still just that little bit too strong. Cruden and Goosen traded penalties to make the score 25-20 to the Cheetahs after an hour, only for that score to spark a period of seven minutes where the determined Chiefs sustained pressure on the Cheetahs line.
Eventually something had to break and it did, with Tongan prop Arizona Taumalolo going over from close range to add to a similar try he had scored earlier in the second half. Cruden made one of his few errors of a sublime game when he missed the conversion, and the scores were locked at 25-all with 13 minutes to go.
The Chiefs belied all the theories about both altitude and jetlag with the way they finished, though it is true that they only travelled from Perth this week after playing Western Force, and it is easier to fly from east to west.
They must have been wondering though what they were suffering from in the first half, with dominance in almost every aspect of the game coming to virtually nothing as somehow the Cheetahs just clung in on the scoreboard when it was clear they were being outplayed.
The only Chiefs try of the first half came through wing Lelia Masaga, who took the final pass at the end of a great counter-attack which had been started by fullback Matthew Horrell, who took advantage of an inaccurate Cheetahs kick and chase.
That made it 10-3 after 21 minutes after Cruden and Ebersohn had traded penalties earlier on, but try though the Chiefs did, they just couldn’t add to the score in the next 19 minutes. Instead Ebersohn kicked two penalties for the Cheetahs, one a real psychological booster on the stroke of halftime, to cut the deficit to just one point.
Cheetahs –Tries: Ashley Johnson, Johan Goosen. Conversion: Johan Goosen. Penalties: Sias Ebersohn(4), Johan Goosen(3).
Chiefs –Tries: Lelia Masaga, Sona Taumalolo(2), Sonny Bill Williams, Richard Kahui. Conversions: Aaron Cruden(4). Penalties: Aaron Cruden(2).